Reducing Exposure to Air Pollution

Published on: February 02, 2019

What is the importance of reducing exposure to air pollution and how can you effectively do so? Distributor of air pollution masks Helen Garry provides some useful information and advice.

By Helen Garry

Sadly we now live in a time where high pollution levels around the world are becoming the norm. New data from the World Health Organization (WHO) shows that nine out of ten people breathe air containing high levels of pollutants and air pollution levels remain dangerously high in many parts of the world, including South East Asia. It was estimated that some 4.2 million deaths were caused by exposure to ambient air pollution in 2016. 

Those most at risk are children, older adults, and people with respiratory and heart conditions.

The size of particles is directly linked to their potential for causing health problems. Small particles less than ten micrometers in diameter pose the greatest problems because they can get deep into your lungs and some may even get into your bloodstream. Exposure to such particles can affect both your lungs and your heart. Larger particles are of less concern, although they can irritate your eyes, nose, and throat.

Those most at risk are children, older adults, and people with respiratory and heart conditions. However, we are all susceptible to the hazards of poor air quality and short-term conditions like fatigue, headaches, irritation, and discomfort of the eyes and throat can be common indicators that your surrounding air quality may be compromised.

How to protect ourselves and our children

So what can we do to protect ourselves and, more importantly, our children from the harmful effects of air pollution?

Be aware

The most important thing you can do is to be aware of the pollution levels in your local environment. Awareness is the first step to prevention. One simple action you can take is to download an air quality app which will allow you to monitor the air quality index (AQI) in realtime and enable you to make informed decisions about planned outdoor activities before you go to work or play. It is advised to avoid prolonged or strenuous activity when pollution levels are high. See the AQI graph below.

So what is meant by ‘unhealthy’ air quality? Air quality is measured by the number of particles of less than 10 micrometers in diameter (PM10), which pose a health concern because they can invade the respiratory system. Particulate matter less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter (PM2.5) are referred to as ‘fine’ particles and are believed to pose the greatest health risks. Because of their small size (approximately 1/30th the average width of a human hair), these fine particles can lodge deeply into the lungs.

Wear an anti-pollution mask: Types of masks

Now that you are able to track air pollution levels, what do you do if you are unable to avoid going outside, including going to work, taking children to school, and shopping for groceries? One precaution you can take is to wear an anti-pollution mask.

There is a lot of talk about which mask will give the best protection. I have looked at three types of masks that are available here in Bangkok.

Surgical mask

Surgical masks are not designed to provide respiratory protection. Surgical masks provide barrier protection against droplets including large respiratory particles. Most surgical masks do not effectively filter small particles from the air and do not prevent leakage around the edge of the mask when the user inhales. They are disposable and are thrown away after a one-time use or if they get wet, which is inevitable from the moisture in your breath.

N95 respirator

N95 respirators were designed for occupational usage in various industries including the health industry. They filter at 0.3 microns in diameter and have been tested by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The test is extremely stringent due to the purpose of use: air is forced through the filter at 80 liters per minute; however, a human only breathes at eight liters per minute. These masks are disposable and need to be thrown away if they get wet, dirty, or become difficult to breathe through. The lifespan of an N95 respirator is difficult to ascertain but is approximately a week, depending on how long it’s been worn and the weather conditions.

StyleSeal air pollution masks

StyleSeal air pollution masks have disposable filters which have been independently tested at Nelson Labs in Utah, USA, in compliance with US-FDA regulations at a particle size of 0.3 microns. It is only the StyleSeal filters which need to be replaced after approximately 18 hours of use. The mask itself can be used over and over again so there is less waste and it’s good for the environment, which is different to disposable surgical masks or N95 respirators.

I think we all need to be aware of how our air quality has changed due to the many variables. Equally important is how you protect yourself and your loved ones for the unwanted side effects and potentially long-term and perhaps irreversible damage of air pollutants.

Cover photo: Pixabay.

 

About the Author

Helen currently works as a Distributor for StyleSealAnit-Pollution face masks and has lived in Bangkok for two years with her husband and three children. Her family love the vibrant, grittiness of Bangkok. 


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